War on Drugs or Human Rights: Philippines President Resists Investigation

War on Drugs or Human Rights: Philippines President Resists Investigation

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte proclaimed a bloody war on drugs back in June of 2016. As of 2017, the murderous “drug war” resulted in the deaths of more than 12,000 ‘suspects’, according to Human Rights Watch in the World Report 2018.

Each time his violent anti-drug campaign is questioned, President Duterte responds by harassing and threatening critics. From the beginning, officials have publicly reviled, humiliated and even jailed human rights advocates. Some contest that not only has Duterte resisted calls to end this bloody war on drugs but has actually gone on to use populist rhetoric to ridicule activists from investigating his chaotic crusade.

Recent remarks from American President Donald Trump are also being brought into question as he seems to believe executing drug dealers is a reasonable approach. Transcripts from a call Trump had with Duterte actually say that he was praising the Philippines President for encouraging carnage in his own streets.

A new report states that President Duterte has actually told his police and soldiers not to participate or cooperate in any probes against his militant anti-drug warfare. Will the Philippines President continue to resist any attempts to curb his brutal campaign?

Extrajudicial Killings and the Bloody War on Drugs

Firstly, let us clarify what an extrajudicial killing is (also called extrajudicial execution). This is when a person is killed by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process. Essentially, these executions bypass due process and are mostly regarded as unethical. The Philippines bloody war on drugs is truly horrific considering their president has:

  • Urged citizens to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts
  • Ordered police to shoot-to-kill
  • Offered bounties for dead suspects

President Duterte has even admitted to killing suspected criminals personally, and all of which seems to fit right into the category of extrajudicial killings. Duterte was a mayor in Davao for more than 20 years. During that time, he stalked the streets with the infamous Davao Death Squad in attempts to find and kill suspected drug criminals.

This is all pretty terrifying. Especially when you consider that out of the estimated 12,000 deaths:

  • Approximately 4,000 occurred during police led operations
  • The rest- estimated 8,000- we killings by “unidentified gunmen”

A huge factor to remember is they aren’t only killing suspected dealers, but also drug users or suspected addicts. When most of the world is working to make help available to those who desperately need it, this president thinks murdering addicts will eliminate the drug problem.

There has been mounting pressure from local and international entities to investigate the thousands of slayings by police. But in a speech delivered to elite armed police forces in Davao City, Duterte stated:

“When it comes to human rights, or whoever rapporteur it is, my order to you: Do not answer. Do not bother.”

Duterte defends his order toward security services, saying:

“Who are you to interfere in the way I would run my country? You know very well that we are being swallowed by drugs.”

This definitely is not the first time President Duterte has made some harsh comments while pushing back against outside influence.

Zero Tolerance for Any Interference

In 2016 a lot of things happened concerning the bloody war on drugs in the Philippines. We won’t break down the entire timeline. However, we encourage everyone to do a little reading into the series of disturbing events. At one point, the UN rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard was formally invited by the Philippines government to investigate the controversial deaths. Then, President Duterte had an abrasive change of heart, saying he would “slap” Callamard if she began her investigation.

Not only did Duterte attack outside influence, he also encouraged police to attack human rights advocates in the Philippines. He has reportedly told the police to shoot these individuals “if they are obstructing justice.”

Duterte publicly condemns the official Commission on Human Rights. He has even threatened to abolish this entity entirely, despite it being mandated by the country’s constitution. It seems as though the government of the Philippines is prepared to stop at nothing to continue waging this gruesome war on anyone and everyone connected to drugs. Now that means going to war with those fighting to defend their human rights.

Examining the International Outcry

Last Tuesday, Duterte said he would accept the UN investigation into his brutal drug policies. However, he claims that Callamard is biased and that he will not cooperate if she was leading the investigation.

In February, another examination into the war on drugs in the Philippines was opened by the International Criminal Court (ICC). While this examination could eventually lead to charges of crimes against humanity, the process itself could take several years. By then, how many more victims could this ongoing onslaught claim? If Duterte continues to instruct law enforcement and military to resist investigations, how much harder could it be to stop the killing?

Human rights groups have said many of the killings by police have been outright executions. However, law enforcement officials deny these allegations. Even with surveillance footage that contradicts their claims.

So far, the killing has not stopped. Between December 5, 2017, and February 1, 2018, almost 50 people suspected of using and selling drugs were killed by officers.

The drug problem is serious; there is of course no denying that. Opioid overdose rates in America have continued to rise, and death rates related to drug use continue to be a leading cause of death in the US. However, the majority of experts agree that our own war on drugs was extremely flawed and ultimately failed, especially concerning the more punitive aspects, and it was not nearly as violent or aggressive as the actions we see now in the Philippines. If all of this teaches us anything, we should be able to see that aggressively attacking and executing addicts and suspected drug dealers is not going to solve this problem.

The best resource we have at our disposal when facing the addiction epidemic in America is innovative and effective treatment opportunities. Fighting the opioid crisis doesn’t mean fighting the addicts. Recovery means treating the underlying issues and helping as many people as possible find a way out. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.

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President Trump Talks About Giving Drug Dealers the Death Penalty

President Trump Talks About Giving Drug Dealers the Death Penalty

One of the consistent topics in politics now is how the current administration plans to tackle issues concerning drug policy. There’s plenty of recent news, such as the Attorney General announcing a plan for the Justice Department to support states suing Big Pharma opioid makers, while also claiming that marijuana is partly responsible for the opioid crisis. Reports have indicated China is willing to work with the US to fight fentanyl trafficking, but critics are still worried about the massive cuts President Trump proposed for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

But that isn’t the only proposal made by President Trump that has inspired debates about drug policy.

This past Thursday, while speaking at the White House event on opioid issues, many believe that a few of Trump’s comments endorse the idea of executing people who sell illegal drugs. Shocking as it may seem to some people, the concept isn’t all that new. In fact, we see people all the time in the comment section of many articles on opioids who seem to think this is an acceptable idea.

We have asked the question before if drug dealing should be considered homicide, with mixed responses. However, now it seems we should be asking- is drug dealing punishable by death?

President Trump Admiring the Philippines

If we take a look back, President Trump has supported this strategy before. Just last year the leaked transcript of a phone call with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines quoted Trump praising the nation’s bloody and brutal War on Drugs. In recent years, thousands of extrajudicial killings have taken place in a country fully immersed in a violent vendetta against drugs. The president was quoted saying:

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

However, not everyone shares the president’s admiration. An inquiry by the International Criminal Court is actually investigating the killings of the Philippines drug war. Not to mention, others would argue that the brutal crackdowns in the Philippines haven’t exactly worked out either. In December, the head of the country’s drug enforcement agency publicly stated that they have been unable to stop dealing at the street level.

President Trump on Drug Dealers

This isn’t the only reported instance of the president supporting this extreme tactic. Just days before his Thursday remarks there was a story that Trump had privately told a number of people, including leaders in Congress, that he supports executing drug dealers.

So what did President Trump say at the White House Thursday? In general, he thinks sellers of illegal drugs don’t get punished severely enough in the US, stating:

“We have pushers and we have drug dealers that kill hundreds and hundreds of people and most of them don’t even go to jail,”

“If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people [who sell drugs] can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them.”

Even back in January, President Trump made comments that some think was a precursor to this conversation. In another report, the president suggested he had an idea for a change in drug policy that might be too dramatic for the country.

“No matter what you do, this is something that keeps pouring in. And we’re going to find the answer. There is an answer. I think I actually know the answer, but I’m not sure the country’s ready for it yet. Does anybody know what I mean? I think so.”

There is not yet any indication the president has committed to go this far. And yet, he has repeatedly vowed to be “much tougher on drug dealers and pushers.”

President Trump also said that his administration will be rolling out policy over the next three weeks, promising it will be “very, very strong.” This administration is definitely consistent with its focus on stricter enforcement and tough-on-crime tactics for the drug problem. So is this recent stir surrounding the president’s comments well-founded? Or is the president’s support for dealing with drug dealers with the death penalty just an opinion of his that won’t go into any actual policy plans?

Should Drug Dealers be Executed?

Surely, we will see plenty of arguments in the comments here. There are bound to be some very strong opinions. Some people do believe that drug dealers are the cause of countless deaths and that they should face the harshest punishments possible.

One person might say ‘an eye for an eye… trade one lethal injection for another.’ But we still need to ask ourselves if this is actually effective.

Many would argue that a lot of street-level dealers are addicts themselves, who peddle their own prescription medications or other illegal substances out of desperation. They might still be people suffering from an illness that leads them to do things they might not otherwise do.

You might say- well, then we should only execute people who provide drugs that lead to a death. But there are plenty of cases where this strict of a penalty seems extremely cruel and unusual. And there are already instances where the individual providing drugs to someone who overdosed has been charged with manslaughter. Some were even charged with second-degree murder. For example, there was the case of Joshua Lore. Lore had gotten himself high on heroin and then prepared and administered a dose for his friend, 23-year-old Kody Woods. After Woods died from the overdose, Lore was charged with second-degree murder. The coroner ruled the death accidental. However, the law still allowed for him to be charged as if he had intentionally shot his friend down in the street.

Would anyone argue that maybe he should face the death penalty because maybe his friend paid him for the drugs? What if?

Criminal Charges for Overdoses

In 1986, Boston Celtics draft pick Len Bias’s death was deemed cocaine-relate. The federal government then implemented stiff penalties on drug dealers whose sales can be directly tied to overdoses. This includes a minimum of 20 years, and up to life in prison. But there is the still scrutiny to prove the allegations against dealers. Back in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a drug can’t just have contributed to death. It needs to actually be proven as the cause of death.

So where do we draw the line there? Because in some cases an individual may not die directly due to an overdose, but because the drug causes a reaction in the body with a pre-existing condition or counteracts other drugs it turns deadly. What if someone buys drugs from multiple dealers in one day, then dies? Does each dealer get put to death just in case?

Let us say we are only going to consider the death penalty with king-pins and large-scale traffickers. Kellyanne Conway, who is the head of the White House’s anti-drug effort, supposedly told Axios the proposal from President Trump is more nuanced and would only apply to “high-volume dealers who are killing thousands of people.” Fair enough. But how do we measure that exactly? Will it depend on the drug? Are we going to have someone with marijuana farms being executed next to fentanyl traffickers, even though the substance they sell is considered legal in several states?

It all becomes a much deeper conversation about where the mindset of our world is right now. These days it seems our society has continued to embrace the idea of choosing the lesser evil. And we can argue all day about whether or not people think this is ‘right’… but would it even work?

Lesser Evil

Sadly, even if President Trump were to make the necessary distinctions, there are still going to be people who think all drug dealers should face death. But is trying to fight drugs by making an example out of dealers a practical solution?  If people say drug use is still a voluntary act, should selling drugs constitute the death penalty if drugs aren’t forced into the victim’s body? And if we say yes, many also want to know if the president will support holding Big Pharma executives who engaged in corruption and shady marketing to the same standard.

Sure, maybe killing some drug dealers might scare a few others, but it won’t scare them all. If a dealer is taken off the streets, odds are another will take their place. Experts are sometimes split on whether attacking addiction at the supply-side has not been an effective strategy. Some say it makes drugs harder to get and more expensive. However, others say the open market inspires more dealers to take advantage of scarcity with higher prices. Studies even suggest there is no hard evidence that harsher penalties or supply elimination reduces drug use.

The tragic truth is there are already people who think we shouldn’t even be doing so much to save the lives of addicts. They say those who overdose should be left to die.

Is that who we are now? We see the people in our communities in pain and we leave them to die?

President Trump seems to believe a less punitive approach won’t work. So do the people agree? Should we have more compassion or convictions? If we stopped trying to arrest and punish our way out of the opioid crisis, could we be making more lives better?

Should we really be relying on the lesser evil?

The pain of losing a loved one to addiction is undeniable, and the desire for justice is understandable and natural. Even though we see addiction as a disease, we have to know we take our lives into our own hands every time. Sadly, sometimes we don’t make it back. But if you do, take it as an opportunity to make a change. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

 CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

South Florida School Shooting: Gun Violence and Mental Health Debate

South Florida School Shooting: Gun Violence and Mental Health Debate

Only days after the horrific South Florida school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we must take a hard look at the mental health debate, and why mental health should always have been a priority.

It seems like just yesterday I wrote about last year’s tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas and emphasizing how critical it is that mental health support and awareness be a serious and key focus of this conversation. The school where this tragedy took place is a mere 37 miles from where I sit and write this today. I lived within a 20-minute drive of the building for over 3 years. Now, with only a month and 15 days into 2018, we already up to 19 similar acts of terrible violence.

On Wednesday, February 14, Nikolas Cruz entered the high school in Parkland, Florida with an AR-15 rifle and took the lives of 17 people, wounding over a dozen others. This is America’s deadliest school attack in 5 years, perpetrated by a lone 19-year-old gunman with a reputation for disturbing behavior.

Yesterday, President Donald Trump included in his statement about the South Florida school shooting that there were “so many signs” the suspected shooter was “mentally disturbed.” But should mental health be our own focus?

It is extremely difficult to find answers to this complex problem. So what action should we take to change?

The Mental Chaos of Nikolas Cruz

Authorities have confirmed that Cruz was previously expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for disciplinary issues. Reports from the school indicate Cruz as a potential threat who demonstrated a fixation on guns. This obsession can be seen on full display through the photos suggested to be pulled from Cruz’s social media accounts.

Reports said that teachers, classmates and even strangers were concerned about Cruz. One teacher apparently reported that administrators sent an email last year saying that Cruz was not allowed to carry a backpack on campus. Cruz’s adoptive father died a few years ago, and his adoptive mother, who was one of the only people the teen was ever close with, died around Thanksgiving. The orphaned 19-year-old had been living at a friend’s house, with some suggesting he was showing signs of depression. Some former friends have even said they cut ties with him after saying he liked to shoot animals. Classmates claim he used to sell knives out of a lunchbox in the school and even threatened students with violence.

Cruz had been suspended more than once before being expelled, for fighting and having bullets found in his backpack. While he had no criminal history prior to this appalling act of violence, he lived a troubling and chaotic life.

What was being done?

Failing to Catch Red Flags

While it is unfair to say there were no actions taken, those actions failed to put a stop to this tragedy. The Washington Post reports that Cruz had been getting treatment at a mental health clinic, but had stopped after less than a year. Some are insisting that not enough was done to try and address the many obvious issues shown in Cruz’s past. Howard Finkelstein, the chief public defender in Broward County, states,

“Every red flag was there and nobody did anything. When we let one of our children fall off grid, when they are screaming for help in every way, do we have the right to kill them when we could have stopped it?”

Even the FBI admits to receiving a warning about this individual and failing to act. With so many indications that Cruz was a threatening, violent and unstable individual it is deeply troubling that not only did he slip through the cracks of any efforts to curb mental health-related issues, but he was able to obtain a variety of weapons. Despite the many red flags, Cruz’s background wouldn’t disqualify him from purchasing the rifle he used in the shooting.

The Mental Health VS Gun Rights Debate

The biggest debate we see after each one of these terrible atrocities is that familiar blame game;  Is it a ‘guns’ issue or a ‘mental health’ issue? Without picking a side, I’ll try to acknowledge a lot of the concerns. For example, there is an enormous amount of data showing that the rates of mental health disorders in the last few decades has increased at astonishing rates. Every year the mental health of our nation is dwindling. So is this the answer to the riddle? Some seem to think so. Others- not so much.

The current federal law already denies the sale of firearms to anyone who is considered “adjudicated as a mental defective” by a lawful authority or involuntarily committed to a mental institution. It also allows for states to create stricter restrictions. Some states have taken advantage of this and enacted legal channels for stripping firearms away from gun owners flagged as potential threats. However, some do not think this is enough. Others have even gone as far as directly linking mental health to gun rights.

  • In Hawaii, a person diagnosed with a mental disorder may not own a gun without clearance from a doctor.
  • California firearm owners can be disqualified from gun possession for five years if involuntarily confined to psychiatric care for 72 hours and deemed by medical professionals to be dangerous to themselves or others.

However, legal experts also warn that it isn’t as simple as identifying people with mental disorders. According to Fredrick Vars, a law professor at the University of Alabama,

“By and large, the people who engage in these horrific events don’t have obvious major psychiatric issues,”

Dr. Rozel, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. He states that these broad restrictions based on a psychiatric diagnosis risk depriving hundreds of thousands of law-abiding people of their gun rights. Rozel goes on to say,

“Fundamentally, that’s the problem with focusing on the mental-health issue.”

According to a study by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education in 2004, conducted after the attack at Columbine High School, surveyed “targeted school violence”:

  • Only 1/3 of perpetrators had ever received a mental-health evaluation
  • Fewer than 20% of that 1/3 had been diagnosed with mental health or behavior disorder before the attack

The President of the American Psychological Association (APA) Jessica Henderson Daniel does not agree with automatically assigning the label of mental illness to school shooters. She and other experts believe such rhetoric oversimplifies the complex problem of mass violence while also stereotyping those who struggle with mental health disorders.

“Framing the conversation about gun violence in the context of mental illness does a disservice both to the victims of violence and unfairly stigmatizes the many others with mental illness.”

A senior policy adviser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness said in an interview that invoking mental illness in the gun-control debate is often more political than helpful to those who actually struggle with mental health issues. Many see it as a means to draw attention away from any discussion on gun control. So is it really that far-fetched to even consider an honest and thorough examination of how we might improve policies surrounding access to guns?

After all, American has more mass shootings than any other developed nation, and not even by a little. Studies indicate that the rate at which public mass shootings occur tripled since 2011.

From 1982 up to 2011, a mass shooting occurred roughly once every 200 days.

Then, between 2011 and 2014 that rate has accelerated to at least one mass shooting every 64 days in the United States.

Realistically, it is fair to question the idea that this is simply a mental health issue. It may be a piece of the problem. Yet there is so much more that needs to be addressed in order to work toward a future without this kind of senseless violence.

What Can Be Done For Mental Health?

The sad thing is, we should never have waited for any acts of violence to make mental health a priority. A wide spectrum of issues, including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder are all very serious and very damaging conditions. Countless Americans still struggle and don’t even know it, or don’t have access to care.

Many argue that the way lawmakers are changing healthcare is making it harder for people to receive mental health services. So with all that has happened, will mental health truly become the priority everyone says it will be? Thursday President Trump promised to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health” while speaking in regards to this tragic incident. But how will these words be followed by action? The president’s current budget actually includes massive cuts to mental health resources, so will these resources be given new priority?

For trauma survivors, there is a whole other element to providing mental health support resources. Horrific incidents like this recent shooting create shockwaves throughout the community and impact the mental health of innumerable others. Students, families and friends, teachers and other officials like law enforcement are all exposed to a new level of unimaginable pain and suffering. We must also make their mental health a priority. But we need to stop waiting until something unspeakable happens before we worry about our nation’s mental health.

Our hearts break for all of our neighbors here in South Florida who are suffering. No matter what we do, be it changing our mental health care or any other policies concerning guns, we MUST DO BETTER!

If you or someone you love is struggling with trauma, depression, or any mental health disorder please seek help. If you struggle with substance use disorder, drugs or alcohol is not the answer. There is real help out there. Please call toll-free now.

  CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

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